Sen. Boxer Could Be Vulnerable
By Stuart Rothenberg
California Senate: Incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer is likely to face a challenge from the GOP. Republicans believe that Boxer was lucky to win election in 1992, in part because the year was generally a poor one for Republicans across the country but also because her GOP opponent, conservative Bruce Herschenson, was unable to unify the Republican Party. Boxer used an "outsider" strategy to tap the strong mood of change that ran through the '92 electorate.
Boxer, who served five terms in the House of Representatives from a San Francisco-area district, generally votes a liberal line, and her early poll numbers have been mixed. A September poll conducted by Mason-Dixon for local media outlets showed Boxer with excellent and good ratings totaling 36 percent, while 60 percent of those polled gave her fair or poor ratings. A February Mason-Dixon poll gives her better numbers and holding comfortable leads against a number of potential GOP rivals, but still shows vulnerability.
At least a handful of Republicans are looking at the race, and Democrats are hoping that the GOP chops itself up as moderates battle conservatives.
The top tier of potential candidates includes a couple of congressmen, a statewide elected official and one mayor. San Diego Mayor Susan Golding has made no bones about her interest in the Senate race. A GOP moderate, she comes from a politically important city that served as the jumping-off point for another Republican mayor, Pete Wilson. Golding should be able to raise money, and may have an advantage as the only woman in the GOP Senate race.
State Treasurer Matt Fong is also eyeing the race, and he too could be a formidable candidate. He has already run statewide, and he may be able to count on the politically active Asian-American community in the state to raise money and provide him with a political base. Fong has been around politics all his life. His mother, March Fong Eu, was a Democratic statewide elected official for years. Fong is also regarded as a moderate, though his views on many subjects are not well-known.
The congressmen looking at the Senate race generally come from the party's right. Chris Cox, David Dreier and Jerry Lewis could each try to run a conservative-versus-moderate race against either Golding or Fong, but they could also divide up the conservative vote if more than one of them runs.
Members of Congress in a state like California are not well-known statewide, so any Republican running from the House of Representatives would need to worry about name recognition, at least early on in the primary process.
One early wild card in the race could be businessman Darrell Issa, who has been looking at a number of possible statewide races and is now taking a particularly close look at the Senate race. He has raised money for the GOP and been active in the party.
Boxer starts off with all of the advantages of incumbency, as well as with the knowledge that incumbent senators seeking re-election have done well. She raised $10.3 million for her 1992 contest and should once again prove a strong fund-raiser.
The senator's job performance numbers in the new Mason-Dixon poll stand at 45 percent good or excellent/49 percent fair or poor -- mediocre numbers at best. While 44 percent of those polled say she should be reelected, 26 percent say she should be replaced. When matched against a number of potential GOP challengers, Boxer does rather well -- showing right around the important 50 percent mark. She leads Chris Cox (51 percent-25 percent), David Dreier (50 percent-26 percent), Matt Fong (47 percent-32 percent) and Susan Golding (49 percent-29 percent). But some of Boxer's strength is a function of her having much higher name recognition than any of the Republicans.
The GOP is a bit on the defensive in the Golden State -- the Democrats have an excellent opportunity to pick up the governorship in 1998 -- so Boxer may not be nearly as weak as some of her early poll numbers suggest.
An Opportunity For Democrats In Indiana
Indiana Senate: Indiana, one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation, offers the Democrats an excellent opportunity for picking up a U.S. Senate seat in 1998. That's because incumbent Republican Dan Coats has announced he won't seek re-election next year.
Coats's decision is a blow to the GOP, which already figured to have a fight on its hands to retain the seat in the face of an expected challenge from popular former governor Evan Bayh, who appears to be an all-but-announced candidate for the seat. Bayh served two terms as governor and was prohibited from seeking reelection to a third successive term. He was re-elected with 62 percent of the vote in 1992 and is popular even with Republican voters, who like his fiscal conservatism.
A couple of Republicans have already ruled out a race, while others have indicated they are considering the contest. Among those who have withdrawn themselves from consideration are Indianapolis Mayor Steve Goldsmith, who just lost a bid for governor, and Rep. Dan Burton, who chairs the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke and state manufacturers association president Pat Kiely are testing the waters, and their ability to raise money for a race against Bayh will surely be a key factor in their decisions.
Reps. David McIntosh and Mark Souder are often mentioned as formidable candidates, but neither one has indicated strong interest in running for the Senate next year. McIntosh is ambitious and is widely mentioned as a statewide candidate in the not-too-distant future, but he chairs a subcommittee and is the GOP's point man on regulatory reform, and it seems unlikely that he would give up a safe House seat to seek the Senate nomination and an uphill race against Bayh.
Indiana looks like a great chance for a Democratic pick-up as long as Bayh is the Democratic nominee. Without him, all bets are off.
Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
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